Once a month, we’ll feature a wildlife hotspot. We want to aid you with getting ‘the shot’ in order to help rekindle your love for nature, to enable you to become inspired by wildlife and to equip you to become an advocate for a wilder world at home.
This month’s focus:
I wanted to list cougars and wolves as the main attraction for this wildlife hotspot, but Jill felt I would be leading too many people on. As a result, this month’s feature on Disaster Point is listed as a place to find mountain goats and bighorn sheep. And it is. But if you spend enough time at this hotspot, curious events have been known to happen.
Located a 45 minute drive east of the townsite in Jasper National Park along Highway 16, you won’t find Disaster Point on many maps.
Just past Jasper Lake, the Athabasca narrows once again and begins to parallel the highway. On the south side of the road, a series of small ponds will appear just east of the Roche Miette River bridge. Finally, with a big turnout on the north side of the road, on a sharp bend of the highway, the mountain, Roche Miette, will meet the pavement with a small cliff-face. This is Disaster Point.
Of course, the best indication you’ve reached your destination will be a herd of bighorn sheep spread along the highway’s shoulders, licking salt. They’re omnipresent and they’re one of the star attractions.
Sure, sheep can be found throughout the mountain parks and there are even better locations for massive rams, though they do reside within this hotspot as well.
But what makes these sheep so truly special is the fact that they, well, jump. And jump a lot. Across a pond. A lot.
If you haven’t read our story about the jumping sheep, take a moment to do so. Because spending a day with bighorn sheep is nice and all, but spending a day with these bighorn sheep is a must.
You might get shots like this…
It seems that mid-morning yields the most jumping, but there is no hard and fast rule. Mark my words though, if you put in the time, the sheep will jump.
In the afternoons (most often, at any rate) the sheep will clear out and make way for the elder statesanimal of Disaster Point: The dignified mountain goats.
While they won’t jump, they will drink from the still pond water.
They will clash on the cliffs.
They will stand on guard for thee, often in the fading light.
And they’ll just generally be classy, beautiful goats.
For me, however, whether it is just plain luck or the start of a trend, putting in the time at Disaster Point can never be a bad thing.
At 10am one morning, while photographing sheep, a cougar flew over the side of the hill, onto its neck and dragged the kill up the cliff face.
At 3pm one afternoon, a white wolf herded sheep on the hillside, before retiring riverside for a drink.
And at 10pm on yet another evening, that wolf got its sheep and enjoyed its meal on the far side of one of those bodies of water.
Both the wolves and the cougar I know have been seen on other occasions, so you never know. If I had to declare a wildlife hotspot for cougars, this just might be it.
Truthfully, though, the highway on both sides of this turn-out for several kilometres can be labelled as a wildlife hotspot.
Explore this stretch of the Yellowhead to find the herds, but keep an eye out for black bears and moose to the east of Disaster Point and coyotes, beavers and bald eagles to the west.
And of course, I doubt you’ll miss the big bull elk that call this part of the park home, so long as a semi-trailer doesn’t kill them first.
Disaster Point might not have the non-stop bear action of Maligne Lake or the peacefulness of Marmot Basin, but for unique wildlife photography, it’s not only the best in Jasper, but the best anywhere in the Rockies.
Location: Jasper National Park, Alberta
Accessibility: 30km east of Jasper townsite, between Roche Miette and Miette Hot Springs turn-off
Photographic Focus: Bighorn Sheep & Mountain Goats
Best Time: All day, but late afternoon is best
Season: Year round
– Though the chances are slim of lightening striking twice, this area is excellent cougar habitat and they have been seen on multiple occasions. It might be as close to a cougar hotspot as you’ll find.
– Truck traffic is brutal, so be extremely careful of your surroundings so not to get hit or cause an accident.
– While telephoto lenses are great, some of the best images I’ve capture have been with my 70-200 lens, as it’s allowed me to be nimble when the sheep jump.
– Lighting is usually good, but is great in the afternoon and evening.
– Be sure to keep checking both east and west of Disaster Point for signs of goat, sheep, moose, coyotes, black bear and bull elk, as well as wolf and cougar.